What happens in court?
Being cross examined in court can be tough, but we can help give you the confidence to deal with it
Where an accused pleads not guilty the courts have to decide whether or not a person is guilty of an offence they've been charged with. These potentially life-changing decisions are made every day and are at the front end of delivering justice.
It's a big responsibility for everyone concerned including witnesses (which, of course, includes victims who have to give evidence too).
It's no surprise that giving evidence can be difficult for any witness. You may be asked to talk publicly about unpleasant, upsetting or personal events – things you might not even feel comfortable saying to a friend or family member.
You may also be concerned about what the defendant or people they know might try to do when they know that what you said in court could have resulted in them being sent to prison or punished in some other way.
The way that courts work can also cause problems for witnesses. A trial involves arguments by lawyers for and against the defendant, you may have to face difficult cross-examination.
This can mean that lawyers may challenge your version of events or criticise your actions in front of the court room in an attempt to make it look like you are lying or don't really understand or remember what happened. This can feel quite humiliating at times even though you know it's not a personal attack but simply a defence lawyer doing their job based upon what the defendant has told them.
We're here to help
Victim Support created the Witness Service specifically because we know how difficult going to court can be for witnesses.
It's there to support you, your family and your friends through the whole experience. As well as supporting you emotionally, the Witness Service can give you lots of information before the trial about what to expect and even let you see a court room beforehand.
Practical things we can do
All of this can help you to feel more confident when it's your turn to stand in the witness box. We can also help you to deal with court officials and with things such as quiet waiting areas or claiming your expenses.
Our volunteers can even go into the courtroom with you. A lot of witnesses find it reassuring just to know that someone is there for them. It also means that if you want to talk about what happened afterwards, someone will have been through it alongside you.
A few things we can't do
Because of the serious nature of trials and the fact that they’re making potentially life-changing decisions in delivering justice, there are many rules about what is allowed in court. We have to comply with those rules like anyone else.
This means that our Witness Service volunteers can't discuss evidence with you or give you legal advice because there's a risk that we might be accused of interfering with the trial and also our volunteers are not legal experts.
If we do go into the courtroom with you, we can't communicate with you while you are giving your evidence in any court adjournments as this may be misunderstood and seen as us seeking to influence the evidence you're giving.